Pensions crisis gives Tories 14-point lead among older women

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Labour's support among older women has slumped since 1997, with fewer than one in five believing the party has done enough to tackle the pensions crisis, a poll has revealed.

Labour's support among older women has slumped since 1997, with fewer than one in five believing the party has done enough to tackle the pensions crisis, a poll has revealed.

Only 18 per cent of women over 55 believe Tony Blair is doing enough to address the pensions crisis, shows the study for Age Concern, which gave the Conservatives a 14-point lead over Labour in a crucial sector of the electorate.

Yesterday's poll, by ICM for Age Concern and the Fawcett Society, showed 42 per cent of women over 55 said they would vote Conservative, compared to 29 per cent for Labour and 21 per cent for the Liberal Democrats. But 19 per cent were undecided, creating a large bloc of "silver swinger" voters up for grabs. In 1997, 40 per cent of women over 55 backed Labour.

The poll overshadowed Labour's launch of its mini-manifesto for the elderly, which promised to give pensioners greater choice over home help and other care, but failed to give fresh details about how to tackle the pensions plight of women.

The Age Concern report said: "There is an army of 8.8 million voters guaranteed to turn out at the ballot box, but have not decided which box to cross when they get there. They are disillusioned and disappointed by the Labour government, which many of them saw into power in 1997 and 2001 and are searching for a party to deliver on the issues that matter most to them."

The report said the Tories could "wreak havoc" with the Government's majority if they "play their cards right". Katherine Rake, director of the Fawcett Society, said: "Women's pensions will be on the 2005 election agenda like they have never been before. Politicians need to understand this and respond to what women want if they want their support in the election."

Alan Johnson, the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, pledged yesterday to tackle women's pensions but said the Government had not decided how to deal with the problem. He outlined plans to give pensioners an "individual account" worth up to £10,000 a year to pay for home services such as cleaning or home help. They could choose which services they needed, or be paid cash to buy from the private sector. Up to two million people receiving care would be eligible.

Sandra Gidley, the Liberal Democrat spokesman on older people, said that the announcement represented "superficial policies from a superficial government".

The Tories' spokeswoman, Theresa May, said: "This is another example of gross hypocrisy from a government aware they have done so little for so long. Every year, 40,000 older people are still being forced to sell their homes to meet the costs of long-term care and a third of their state pension has been swallowed up in council-tax hikes."

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